Adam Liaw's guide to hosting your first Christmas feast

Plan your meal around your kitchen, advises Adam Liaw. His Christmas Day menu includes pavlova.
Plan your meal around your kitchen, advises Adam Liaw. His Christmas Day menu includes pavlova. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

Hosting your first Christmas lunch is more than just a meal, it's a rite of passage, an unspoken acknowledgement that you've reached a point in your life where you can be responsible for bringing your family together.

This year I became a father for the first time and, with the arrival of the new baby, my status in my own family has changed from that of son to father. As part of that transition, I've taken on the task of hosting Christmas lunch. I must admit the idea of it is a little daunting, because for us, Christmas is always a giant production.

I grew up as one of eight children and, now that most of us have reached adulthood, the four generations of my nuclear family are a big bunch. My mother, stepfather and youngest sister are coming from China, my sister and her husband from Malaysia, my brother's family from the United States, and another brother from Italy. A large contingent, including my father and grandmother and a few more scattered siblings, are coming to Sydney from Adelaide and, factoring in a few aunts and uncles, we might have more than 30 mouths to feed.

The great thing about Christmas lunch is that you're feeding people you know and love. The chance to serve your whole family in one sitting is a rare privilege, and one not to be missed.

But I'm not denying the degree of difficulty. Trying to create a delicious meal for a crowd, without turning your kitchen into a dystopic wasteland is no mean feat. With that in mind, I pass to you my top five hints for avoiding a Christmas lunch disaster.

First time dad Adam Liaw is hosting Christmas for the first time this year.
First time dad Adam Liaw is hosting Christmas for the first time this year. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

1. Plan your menu around your kitchen.

Think about the heat sources in your home and plan your menu accordingly. It's no use putting four oven-baked dishes on the bill if you have only one oven. Use your barbecue, stovetops, portable burners, ovens and microwaves for a complete meal that works in and around your kitchen.

2. Write it down. Stick it down.

Once you have your menu set, write it down as one complete list of steps (mix oyster dressing, juice oranges for turkey glaze, etc.). Once it's written down, take some masking tape and stick the list onto a quiet corner of your kitchen bench, the fridge or a nearby wall. If you don't stick it down, you will lose it when things get hectic.

3. Don't go it alone.

With a lot of family around, you will hopefully be getting a lot of offers of help. Never turn them away. Another great part of having a written list is that you can easily delegate single tasks. Children can help pick herbs, adults can chop vegetables or work a barbecue and, even if there's nothing to cook, having someone just wash whatever dishes are in the sink when they ask will make your day a lot easier.

Oysters with a 'gin and tonic' dressing.
Oysters with a 'gin and tonic' dressing. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

4. You can make friends with salad.

Despite what you may think, the centerpiece turkey is not what will make or break your Christmas feast. If you just bet on the bird and put less effort into your sides and salads, you'll never make a great impression. Great salads come from great ingredients, and you should really put the effort into getting the best fruits, vegetables and cheeses you can afford.

5. Ultimately, the food is not important.

Going traditional ... the hot glazed Christmas turkey.
Going traditional ... the hot glazed Christmas turkey. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

This is true for every dinner party and doubly so for a Christmas feast. What makes a memorable meal is far less about what we eat or drink than it is about the company we keep. Christmas is a joyous occasion and the chance to spend it with the people we love is a rare blessing. Smile, breathe and enjoy yourself.


Gin and tonic oysters

Although it doesn't contain actual tonic water, the cucumber and rocket juice in this simple oyster dressing provides just the slightest hint of metallic, bitter tang that matches perfectly with fresh, fat oysters.

2 dozen oysters

Gin and tonic dressing:

1 small Lebanese cucumber, peeled

a handful of rocket leaves

juice of 1 lemon

1 tsp castor sugar (to taste)

a pinch of salt

1 tbsp gin

1. Juice the cucumber and rocket in a juicer, or blend them in a blender and then squeeze out the juice through muslin or a clean tea towel. Discard the solids.

2. Mix together the lemon juice and sugar, and adjust the proportion of sugar until the juice tastes as sweet as lemonade. Add in the salt, gin and a tablespoon of the rocket and cucumber juice to create a vibrant green dressing. Transfer the dressing to a bottle and store in the fridge until ready to serve with the oysters.

3. To serve, arrange oysters on a platter and splash on the gin and tonic dressing.

Tip: Instead of ice mix together rock salt and table salt with a few splashes of water to create a wet salt for holding the oysters on a serving plate.

Hot Orange Glazed Turkey with Scarborough Fair stuffing

This turkey recipe combines a lot of my family memories in one dish, and just happens to be completely delicious.
The first time I ever cooked for my family at the age of eight, I made baked chicken thighs with orange, honey and soy sauce. A few years later I fell in love with the smell of Cointreau when my older brother snuck a mini-bar bottle of the liqueur into the house. The stuffing recipe here, inspired of course by the Simon and Garfunkle song, was a favourite of mine for roast chickens when I first moved out of home. The chance to put these memories together in a dish this Christmas was too good an opportunity to miss.

a 5-6kg whole turkey
50g butter
1 large onion, peeled
3 carrots
1 cup white wine

Hot orange glaze
zest and juice from 2 whole oranges
1/4 cup honey
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp Cointreau

Scarborough Fair stuffing
1 loaf white bread
200g unsalted butter
1 tsp salt
1 bunch each of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
2 large onions, finely chopped
about 1 cup of water or chicken stock

1. Heat your oven to 180C.

2. Make the stuffing by removing the crusts from a loaf of bread and cutting the white bread into large cubes. Pulse in a food processor to coarse fresh bread crumbs. Fry the onions in a 50g of the butter until translucent and softened but not coloured. Remove from the heat and add the remaining butter to the hot pan, allowing it to melt.  Strip the leaves of the herbs from any stems and finely shred them to produce 1 cup of shredded herbs. Into the bread crumbs mix the softened onions with melted butter, herbs, salt and a little stock or water to create a soft stuffing.

3. Rinse the turkey under running water (remove the neck if still attached) and drain well. Stuff the stuffing into both the neck and rear cavity of the bird. Truss the turkey with kitchen string; start at the neck flap, pin the wings to the body and cross the back of the bird. Loop under the parson’s nose and tie the legs together at the ankles. Rub the skin of the bird with 50g of softened butter and season well with salt.

4. Split the carrots in half lengthways (you don't need to peel them) and cut the onion into chunks. Place the carrot and onion on the base of a roasting pan and place the turkey on top of the vegetables. Cover the pan with foil and roast in the oven for 2 hours, basting every half hour with the juices collecting in the pan. After 2 hours, uncover the pan and roast for a further hour, until the skin of the bird is browned.

5. While the turkey is roasting, mix together the ingredients for the hot orange glaze in a small saucepan and simmer for 30 minutes until thick and glossy. After the turkey has been roasting for a total of 3 hours, begin to brush with the glaze every 15 minutes for an additional 45 minutes.

Remove the turkey from the oven and cover loosely with foil. Rest for 30 minutes in a draught-free place, continuing to brush the turkey with hot glaze every 15 minutes, even while resting.

7. Remove the turkey from the pan and drain off and reserve any pan juices. There should not be too much oil in the pan but if there is a lot then you may want to skim some of the oil. Place the pan over heat on the stove and scatter 2 tbsp of plain flour over the pan and vegetables. Scrape the bottom of the pan and add in the white wine to deglaze, roughly mashing the vegetables. Return the pan juices to the pan and stir until thickened. Strain the gravy and serve with the turkey.

Serves 10

Surefire pavlova with strawberries and white chocolate cream

There are a lot of ''never-fail'' and ''perfect'' pavlova recipes out there, but this is the only one I have found to be truly foolproof. The pavlova meringue is stabilised by vinegar and cornflour as usual, but in a thick paste form that is more easily mixed through the eggs.

½ cup water

1 tbsp white vinegar

1 tbsp cornflour

4 egg whites

165g castor sugar

½ tsp vanilla extract

White chocolate cream

100g white chocolate

300ml thickened cream

2 punnets of strawberries, stalks removed

Icing sugar, to dust

1. Heat your oven to 120C (fan-forced).

2. Bring ½ cup of water to the boil in a small saucepan. In a cup, mix the cornflour and vinegar together to create a slurry, then pour the slurry into the boiling water, stirring immediately to create a thick paste. Cook for a further minute, stirring constantly and remove from the heat.

3. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then gradually add the sugar while continuing to beat until the meringue is glossy and holding firm peaks. Slowly beat through the vanilla and the cornflour-vinegar paste until well combined.

4. On a piece of baking paper on a baking tray, trace the outline of your serving plate. Turn the paper over and spread the meringue mixture within the circle. Bake in the oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes, then turn off the heat and allow the pavlova to cool in the oven for at least 3 hours.

5. For the white chocolate cream, melt the chocolate in the microwave by heating in 10-second bursts until completely melted. Mix 100 millilitres of cream through the melted chocolate to form a soft ganache. Whip the remaining cream to soft peaks and fold through the white chocolate ganache. Store in the fridge until ready to serve.

6. Just before serving, spread the cream over the top of the cooled pavlova and top with the strawberries. Sift over a little icing sugar and serve immediately.

Serves 8-10